Monday June 24, 2024

A violent replay

By our correspondents
January 21, 2016

 We were naïve as we lit candles after the APS School massacre of December 2014, and convinced ourselves as the National Action Plan went into place that we now stood united against terrorism and resolved that we would never see a day like that again. And here we stand again, a little more than a year after the children of APS Peshawar were killed, with yet another tragedy targeting our students. In frighteningly similar fashion, more young lives have been lost to terrorism. On Wednesday morning, as students and teachers assembled to commemorate Pakhtun nationalist and non-violent activist Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (known as Bacha Khan) at the Bacha Khan University at Charsadda, four heavily armed terrorists entered the university, having jumped the back wall, and unleashed a killing spree which has left at least 30 dead and over 60 injured. It seems to be only a miracle that the number of dead has not reached those of the APS tragedy. During the attack, over 200 students remained trapped inside an examination hall; some point to the fact that they remained safe as an indication that there was limited insider collaboration. According to reports, four of the attackers were killed in the ensuing battle with security agencies. The initial resistance to the attack was provided by security guards stationed at the university. Needless to say, the government seems to be congratulating itself over keeping the death toll low.

With such mass attacks, claims of responsibility are never far behind. And in yet another painful reminder of the APS attack, the Charsadda attack has apparently been claimed by the alleged mastermind of the APS attack, the TTP’s Geedar Group’s Umar Mansoor. As has become usual now, another spokesperson for the TTP has denied their role in the attack. There are also initial ‘reports’ pointing to a ‘neighbouring country’s’ involvement. The response by the security forces deserves praise, but the same cannot be said about the country’s security apparatus. The successful attack on the Bacha Khan University means that, despite claims to the contrary by the government and military, the operational ability of terrorists has not been damaged by the ongoing military operation against them. While condemnations have poured in from many in the government, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and with Army Chief Raheel Sharif visiting the site of terror, it is also clear that the government cannot guarantee the safety of our educational institutions. Attacking an event marking the legacy of Bacha Khan seems to also be an attempt to mock the non-violent legacy of the Pakhtun leader. The attack must be taken with the seriousness and commitment that the APS Peshawar attack was seen as. As schools were shut down in KP in view of the security threat and people took their children home, we must question how long we can continue to live like this. We have heard the rhetoric of a ‘fight back’ at all costs. But do we have a guarantee of eventual success? Are we hitting at the roots of extremism or is it growing in our country even as songs are sung and slogans raised? How many lives must be lost before we realise that there is something very wrong with the way we are dealing with out terrorism problem. The impunity that some extremist groups have is compounded with the fact that little real action has been taken to identify the root causes of our terror threat. How many more chemistry teachers are to die saving their students? How many children are we to sacrifice before history and politics teach us which way salvation lies?